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Profession rallies to help bushfire-affected communities

Profession rallies to help bushfire-affected communities

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Hundreds of Victorian lawyers have volunteered to help bushfire victims, with more needed in affected areas.

The LIV hosted a Disaster Legal Help Victoria (DLHV) information session organised by Victoria Legal Aid (VLA) last week which was attended by dozens of lawyers wanting to help bushfire victims on a pro bono basis.

DLHV spokesperson, VLA's Civil Justice, Access and Equity executive director Rowan McRae said the response from the legal profession had been “phenomenal”, with more than 300 individuals and 80 firms offering their help to bushfire affected communities.

“Having that number of people and firms put up their hand to indicate their willingness to help shows the profession is very much committed to doing whatever it can to help out in this crisis,” she said.

Practitioners working or living in or near East Gippsland and north east Victoria who are available to assist are asked to lodge their interest online via the online form.

Volunteer private lawyers will be assigned to join VLA lawyers at legal clinics at bushfire recovery centres in Bairnsdale and other clinics in East Gippsland and north east Victoria as they open over the coming weeks.

They will provide basic information and legal triage on disaster related issues such as insurance, credit and debt, tenancy issues and government grants of assistance. People with more complex and out-of-scope matters will be referred to a dedicated DHLV advice line. Aboriginal people affected by the fires can be referred to a dedicated ATSI service.

DLHV is also working closely with local community legal centres including Hume Riverina Community Centre and Gippsland Legal Community Centre as well as specialist community legal services such as Consumer Action Law Centre (CALC) and Social Security Rights Victoria (SSRV).

Ms McRae said it can take time before people recognise they have legal problems in the wake of a disaster and the numbers of bushfire victims calling on legal help services are expected to grow over the next few weeks.

"It’s a fluid situation, and more recovery centres are likely to open over the next few weeks as the need for services increases.”

Volunteer lawyers must hold a practising certificate and attend a training session in providing trauma-informed services and self-care. “It’s important that volunteers understand legal services to clients in this context and what that might mean for them as well,” Ms McRae said.

LIV president Sam Pandya said the LIV was proud of how quickly the legal profession had responded to the community need following the bushfires. “We know that our members and the entire legal profession is keen to help.”

“Unfortunately we had the benefit of experience,” he said.

The LIV was a founding partner in Bushfire Legal Help with other legal organisations after Black Saturday in 2009. It was expanded to become a recurrent disaster legal response that has helped provide legal assistance to victims of floods, fires and other disasters including the Neo 200 and Lacrosse apartment buildings combustible cladding fires.

People will need legal support and advice for weeks and months to come as they realise the extent of their legal issues, Mr Pandya said. “We know that people will have on-going legal needs as they recover from these terrible fires.”

In partnership with the VLSB and the LPLC, the LIV is also offering assistance to members whose practices have been affected.

For solicitors whose practice has been destroyed or damaged in the fires, the LIV, in association with the Victorian Legal Services Board and the Legal Practitioners’ Liability Committee can assist with queries on:

  • Trust accounting;
  • Professional support for loss of files; and
  • Professional support in costs, ethics and regulatory compliance for any affected legal practice.
  • Advice in relation to management of professional risks

Please contact LIV’s Professional Standards team at PSQA@liv.asn.au or call the LIV’s practice support line on 03 9607 9378.

Members of the public can call 1800 113 432 or go to www.disasterlegalhelp.org.au for free information about legal issues and options for ongoing assistance.


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